New Delhi: In a shocking disclosure, the Army on Friday admitted that 72 of its officers, including a serving Colonel and three Lt Colonels, posted in sensitive border districts of Rajasthan and in the Indian Army Training Team (IMTRAT) at Bhutan were part of an illegal arms selling racket, reports Times of India.
The admission came in a status report submitted to the SC through additional solicitor general Vivek Tankha after a PIL petitioner advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma cried himself hoarse for three years and after the Supreme Court pressed for a probe into the hair-raising racket.
Weapons procured and sold off in violation of the Army Act and Customs Act to arms dealers and private persons included both prohibited and non-prohibited bore and "a total of 72 officers and one JCO were blameworthy" in these cases, the Army said quoting a report submitted by the Court of Inquiry two years ago.
Significantly, in the affidavit submitted before a Bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar, the Army authorities put the gross violation to the ignorance of its personnel. It said that its officers posted at IMTRAT, Bhutan, wrongly felt that it was alright for them to import firearms and ammunition and sell them at a profit. "This needs to be corrected immediately," it said.
It gave the names of the Colonel and 3 Lt Cols along with the number of weapons traded by them -- Col Neeraj Rana (5 weapons of Army officers), Lt Col V S Rathore (17 weapons of Army officers including his weapon), Lt Col S S Rathore (5 weapons of Army officers including his own) and Lt Col B S Shekhawat (11 weapons of Army officers).
While clarifying that most of the weapons illegally traded off were not service ones but non-service patterns (NSPs), the Army said: "Forty-five officers and one JCO had sold their NSP weapons without taking sanction of competent authority in violation of SAO 1/S/96 and the Arms Act, 1959. Of these, 10 officers have since retired."
"Twenty-five officers who were posted at IMTRAT, Bhutan, were found to have imported ammunition in excess of their authorization," the status report said and detailed the disciplinary action taken against them.
Shockingly, of the 35 serving officers, one JCO and 10 retired officers who were asked by the authorities to deposit back their NSPs with the Central Ordnance Depot, Jabalpur, within three months, only four officers have been able to retrieve their weapons and deposit the same with COD Jabalpur and Chandigarh.
While disciplinary action was initiated against four who deposited back their weapons after retrieving them from arms dealers, the rest of the weapons appear to have been lost in circulation.
"Regarding 31 officers and a JCO who had sold their NSPs without sanction and failed to deposit them back with COD, these personnel are serving in various parts of the country. Their attachment orders have been issued by competent authority on August 31, 2010 with the instructions to report to the concerned formation headquarters and units forthwith. On arrival of these officers, disciplinary action will commence against them under the Army Act and Army Rules," the affidavit by the Army promised to the SC.
During the last hearing on the PIL filed by Sharma highlighting the dangerous consequences of such illegal transactions involving arms and ammunition, the Bench had said: "These are such serious allegations. We never expected such things to happen."
What had pained the court was the Centre's inaction to curb such incidents despite the Rajasthan government lodging 14 FIRs. The Bench on Friday also asked the state government to furnish an inquiry report prepared by inspector-general Umesh Mishra of the state Anti-Corruption Branch giving details of the transactions. The report dated July 15, 2007 would be submitted in a sealed cover.